Pope Francis chose to begin his Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy on the 50th Anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council (December 8th, 1965). In doing so he clearly wished to link the course of his Papacy to the legacy of that ecumenical Council. Pope Francis, it may be noted, is the first Pope who was ordained to the priesthood after Vatican II. His own personal chronology crosses the divide of the before-and-after, the pre-conciliar and the post-conciliar Church.
Broadly speaking, two “schools of thought” have emerged from within the Church over the past half-century on the meaning of that Council. One school argues for the “hermeneutic (i.e., the interpretation) of continuity” with regard to the Council. However much Catholicism seems to have changed, it continues on as before, Vatican II having been a catalyst for legitimate reforms. The turmoil in the Church is blamed on abuses of the conciliar reforms, and on the influence of secularism which undermines all religious belief.
Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, who was one of the theological advisers present at the Second Vatican Council, was a proponent of the “hermeneutic of continuity”. We may see in his 2007 Motu Propio “Summorum Pontificum” an example of this. He granted liberty to the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass in the Church—the “Extraordinary Form”—while still maintaining the liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI as the “Ordinary Form” of the Roman Rite.
The other school of thought, the so-called “Bologna School”, has the opposite view of the legacy of the Second Vatican Council. They see not continuity in the Roman Catholic Church, but rupture—and they think of that as a good thing. A very good thing. The three year event of that 1960s Council freed the Church, as they see it, from the hide-bound attachment to Tradition which had been “stifling the Spirit” for so long and turning the Catholic Church into a Fortress instead of allowing it to move out into the world, the better to engage it. For the advocates of the “Bologna School”, Pope Francis is their man.
One of the chief themes of the Second Vatican Council, perhaps the chief theme, however, was the “universal call to holiness”. This was explicitly addressed in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, approved by the Council Fathers in 1964:
“The Church, whose mystery is set forth by this sacred Council, is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy,’ loved the Church as His Bride, giving Himself up for her so as to sanctify her (cf. Eph. 5:25-26); He joined her to Himself as His body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. Therefore all in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it, are called to holiness, according to the Apostle’s saying: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (I Thess. 4:3; cf Ep. 1:4) (LG 39)”
“It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society. (LG 40)”
This therefore is the primary and necessary vocation for every Christian person: the “universal call to holiness”, which is another way of saying the fulfillment of our baptismal vows. All other vocations and courses in life must follow from it and draw refreshment for it as water from a deep and inexhaustible well.
After the “Our Father”, the “Hail Mary” is the most the familiar prayer to us as Catholics, so familiar that we take it for granted that the prayer has always existed as we say it now. This, however, is not so. The elaboration of the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary at the Annunciation, “Hail [Mary], full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women,” into a full fledged prayer of petition, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen,” came out of the life of the Church. It was not until the Roman Breviary issued in 1568 (following the Council of Trent) that the Catholic Church gave official recognition to the form of the Ave Maria known so well to us.
It is a prayer in three parts. 1) Gabriel’s greeting (Luke 1:28), 2) St. Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary, “And blessed is the fruit of thy womb [Jesus]” (Luke 1:42), and 3) The Church’s prayer of petition.
In explaining the Church’s addition of the prayer of petition to the greeting of Our Lady the Catechism of the Council of Trent states the following:
Most rightly has the Holy Church of God added to this thanksgiving, petition also and the invocation of the most holy Mother of God, thereby implying that we should piously and suppliantly have recourse to her in order that by her intercession she may reconcile God with us sinners and obtain for us the blessings which we need both for this present life and for the life which has no end.
In searching for the origins of the Hail Mary in the first millennium of the Church we find it in the growth of personal devotion to the Mother of God among the faithful. It is not until the turn of the millennium, however, that we have evidence of the devotional formula clearly being used by Catholics. For example, Abbot Baldwin, a Cistercian monk who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1184, wrote of the Ave Maria:
To this salutation of the Angel, by which we daily greet the Most Blessed Virgin, with such devotion as we may, we are accustomed to add the words, ‘and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,’ by which clause Elizabeth at a later time, on hearing the Virgin’s salutation to her, caught up and completed, as it were, the Angel’s words, saying: ‘Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.’
Since the Ave Maria was a solemn greeting of an august personage, in these centuries people said it with a gesture of reverence, for example, bending the knee in genuflection. It is recorded of King St. Louis of France (13th Century): “Without counting his other prayers the holy King knelt down each evening fifty times and each time he stood upright then knelt again and repeated slowly an Ave Maria.” The Dominican nun St. Margaret (+1292), daughter of the King of Hungary, outdid St. Louis: on certain days she recited the Ave Maria a thousand times with a thousand prostrations.
The final prayer of petition close to the one in use now appears to have come out of Italy in the later part of the 15th Century, although there was a great variability in the wording of a final prayer of petition to the Ave Maria in the various languages of Catholic Europe. Until the 1568 Breviary, the Hail Mary officially ended with, “…and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.”*
In last Sunday’s bulletin note I presented the Catholic Church’s approach to dogma, which is to carefully make distinctions among different grades of theological certainty. Some things are to be believed with the certainty of faith, de fide, whereas other things are less theologically certain but are still part of Catholicism.
Another way to appreciate these distinctions is to contrast them with the theological censures, that is, the judgment that certain things are contrary to Catholic Faith and Morals or at least doubtful. Here follows a list of the theological censures:
Heretical Proposition: false teaching, a proposition that is opposed to a formal dogma, e.g. God is not a Trinity of Persons is a heretical proposition.
Proximate to Heresy: a proposition which goes against a truth which is proximate to the Catholic Faith, e.g. the belief that Jesus Christ did not actually sin, but also could not sin is a truth proximate to the Catholic Faith: to deny or question it would be a proposition “Proximate to Heresy”.
Savoring or Suspect of Heresy.
Erroneous Proposition: a proposition which contradicts a teaching proposed by the Church as intrinsically connected with Revealed Truth or opposed to the common teaching of theologians, e.g., a denial that Original Sin consists in the deprivation of grace caused by the free act of sin committed by the head of the human race is an erroneous proposition.
False Proposition: contradiction of a dogmatic fact, e.g., that St. Peter established his episcopate in Rome is a dogmatic fact.
Temerarious Proposition: deviation without reason from the general teaching of the Church.
Offensive to Pious Ears: a proposition made which is offensive to religious feeling, even if not, strictly speaking, untrue.
Proposition Badly Expressed(male sonans): a proposition subject to misunderstanding by reason of its method of expression.
Captious Proposition: reprehensible because of its intentional ambiguity.
In the life of the Church over the last few decades the faithful have been subjected to many things from individuals who can claim to have an official status within the Church, as priests, consecrated religious, professional pastoral ministers or theologians. They declare things which are quite deserving of one or more of the Theological Censures on this list. I know that I have heard and read things, particularly touching upon the humanity of Jesus and Mary, which should fall under the censures—at least—of “Offensive to Pious Ears”, “Badly Expressed”, “Captious” and “Exciting Scandal”.
It is no longer the practice for Church authority to publicly and formally impose censures, except in the most egregious cases. Pope John XIII set the tone for our times in the early 1960s when he said that the Church of today should prefer to use “the medicine of mercy” in place of her historical recourse to condemnations, the anathemas.
For our own protection, however, we need to allow our “sense of faith” to register both reserve and disapproval when we hear things asserted by an official or professional Catholic which strike us as unsound and not the “Faith of our Fathers”. The spirit of our age is particularly marked by flippancy, irreverence, and a reflexively oppositional attitude towards traditional morality. It is not surprising that we should find these things within the Household of Faith. Nevertheless, we have to push back against them for the sake of the integrity of our own faith-life.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Apostolic See first approved the liturgical worship by which the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary is given due honor. The way was prepared for this cult by many holy men and women. Pope Pius VII instituted the feast of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, to be celebrated in a devout and holy way by all the dioceses and religious congregations which had requested it. Later, Pope Pius IX added the proper Office and Mass. But the ardent zeal and hope which had arisen even in the seventeenth century and had grown day by day, that this feast should be given greater solemnity and be extended to the whole Church, was graciously fulfilled by Pope Pius XII in the year 1942, when a terrible war was spreading through almost the whole world. He had pity on the limitless hardships of the people, and because of his devotion and trust in the heavenly Mother, he solemnly commended the whole human race to her most gentle Heart and appointed that a feast with its own Office and Mass be celebrated forever and everywhere in honor of her Immaculate Heart.
Saint Nikolaus was a saintly bishop of the fourth century, and being always very kind and helpful to children and young people, God granted every year that on his feastday he might come down to the children. He comes dressed in bishop’s vestments, with a mitre on his head and his bishop’s staff in his hand…The excitement was great on [December] the fifth.
Soon after dark we assembled in the hall, looking out through the large window into the driveway…Suddenly one could see the little flicker of candlelight through the bare bushes. A tall figure bearing a lantern and high staff turned into our driveway, followed by a little black fellow [the “Krampus”].
The heavy double-door opened wide, and in came the Holy Bishop, reverently greeted by young and old. The white beard which cascaded down below his waist showed his old age. Nobody could see that half an hour before, it had been plastered on Hans’s face with the help of the white of a raw egg…After he had sat down, he gave the Captain his lantern to hold, and then he produced from under his white cloak a large package with a big golden Cross…In this magic book were written down all the many crimes, big and little, which had been committed by the children of this house. It was quite incredible how well-informed Saint Nikolaus was…
Saint Nikolaus shook his finger and frowned at the sinners as they were called to his feet. They all felt very uncomfortable, and promised fervently to reform. The Holy Bishop rose and waved his hand towards the door; a big sack was pushed in, which Saint Nikolaus opened. There was a bag with fruit and candies for everybody…
From the beginning, the tradition of the Church—is it perhaps necessary to recall it?— presents us with this privileged witness of a constant seeking for God, of an undivided love for Christ alone, and of an absolute dedication to the growth of His Kingdom. Without this concrete sign there would be a danger that the charity which animates the entire Church would grow cold, that the salvific paradox of the Gospel would be blunted, and that the “salt” of faith would lose its savor in a world undergoing secularization. From the first centuries, the Holy Spirit has stirred up, side by side with the heroic confession of the martyrs, the wonderful strength of disciples and virgins, of hermits and anchorites.
Religious life already existed in germ, and progressively it felt the growing need of developing and of taking on different forms of community or solitary life in order to respond to the pressing invitation of Christ: “There is no-one who has left house, wife, brothers, parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not be given repayment many times over in this present time, and in the world to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30).
Who would venture to hold that such a calling today no longer has the same value and vigor? That the world could do without these exceptional witnesses of the transcendence of the love of Christ? Or that the world without damage to itself could allow these lights to go out? They are lights which announce the Kingdom of God with a liberty which knows no obstacles and is daily lived by thousands of sons and daughters of the Church.
Even before its universal promotion in 1314, Corpus Christi was one of the grandest feasts of the Roman rite. By request of Pope Urban IV, the hymns, Mass propers, and divine office were composed by St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), whose teaching on the Real Presence was so profound that the figure of Jesus Christ once descended from a crucifix and declared to him, “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas.” The mastery with which Aquinas weaves together the scriptural, poetic, and theological texts of this feast amply corroborates this conclusion.
Though Maundy Thursday is in a sense the primary feast of the Blessed Sacrament, Corpus Christi allows the faithful to specially reflect on and give thanks for the Eucharist. Hence there arose a number of observances centered on Eucharistic adoration. The most conspicuous of these is the Corpus Christi procession, for which Holy Mother the Church grants a plenary indulgence to all those who take part in it.
This public profession of the Catholic teaching on the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, which was solemnly encouraged by the Council of Trent, is traditionally accompanied by ornate pageantry. One of the most popular processional customs is having children dress as angels to represent the heavenly hosts who ever adore the Panis Angelicus. So too is having the various parish groups march together in a body. (Both of these customs are mentioned, significantly enough, in an eyewitness account of Holy Trinity German Church’s elaborate Corpus Christi procession of 1851 (A Way of Life, p. 49)).
Another part of the Roman tradition is the recitation of the Divine Office. Required for the clergy and encouraged for the laity, the “liturgical hours” are part of the Church’s way of sanctifying time. Of these hours, Solemn Vespers of Sundays and Feast days are a well-known feature of Catholic piety, so much so that in Europe the Sunday dinner was in some places called the “Vesper meal.” With its heart felt prayer and symbolic use of incense, Solemn Vespers offers the “evening sacrifice” of Psalm 140.2.
To piously and joyously pay tribute to the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Traditional Latin Mass community at Holy Trinity German Church celebrated a High Mass, which was followed by Benediction, a procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Boston’s South-end, the recitation of the Divine Office in Latin including None, Sext, and Vespers, and ended with Benediction. Pictures are below.
Feast of Corpus Christi, Holy Trinity Church, 2000 A. D.